The Lesbian History Group focussed on lesbian history. In the late 1980s, the group provided a focal point for lesbian culture and community in London despite the fact that the political climate was darkening.
In 1989, for example, the meetings featured an extremely rich array of speakers and topics including speakers such as Lilian Mohin, founder of Onlywomen Press, on lesbian feminist publishing, Anna Livia, the novelist, on the portrayal of lesbians in fiction by straight women, Marianne Hester on ‘A Seventeenth Century Lesbian Witch’, Margaret Jackson on Victorian feminist sex reformers, discussions based on books about lesbian friendship, lesbian history walks in Central London, a workshop on lesbian wills, discussion of new biographies and autobiographies of lesbians, cross-dressing in lesbian history, schoolgirl stories, lesbian fiction, lesbian detective fiction, lesbian book-selling and lesbians in occupied Europe during the Second World War, as well as the launch of the lesbian history group book, Not a Passing Phase (1989), and a launch of my book Anticlimax (1990).
…meetings featured an extremely rich array of speakers and topics including speakers such as Lilian Mohin, founder of Onlywomen Press, on lesbian feminist publishing, Anna Livia, the novelist, on the portrayal of lesbians in fiction by straight women, Marianne Hester on ‘A Seventeenth Century Lesbian Witch’, Margaret Jackson on Victorian feminist sex reformers…
The group was the epicentre of a still vibrant lesbian intellectual culture which is hard to imagine in the present, a time when books on lesbian history or lesbian anything, are notable by their absence or, if they exist at all, are entirely free from a feminist perspective.
Our greatest achievement was the publication in 1989 of a collection of writings by members under the title Not a Passing Phase, which was the first book on UK lesbian history. It was a collection of pieces on a variety of topics, such as reclaiming the lesbianism of historical figures e.g. Charlotte Bronte and Winifred Holtby, the history of attacks on spinster teachers, lesbianism in school stories.
I had two chapters, ‘Butch and Femme now and then’ which was a refutation of attempts by proponents of fashionable lesbian roleplaying to justify their hobby with recourse to history, and ‘Does it matter if they did it?’, a consideration of the problem for lesbian historians in claiming lesbians in history if they could not prove that they ‘did it’. The book was so significant that it was chosen in the five top non-fiction titles for the 1990 Gay/Lesbian Book Award by the American Library Association, “books of extraordinary merit relating to the gay/lesbian experience.” In December 1989, the book was number one in the list of non-fiction titles in City Limits, an alternative arts magazine in London.
Extract from Trigger Warning by Sheila Jeffreys by kind permission of Spinifex Press.
Trigger Warning is available to buy from Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trigger-Warning-Lesbian-Feminist-Life-ebook/dp/B08CK6PJYF/ref=sr_1_2 qid=1613383449&refinements=p_27%3ASheila+Jeffreys&s=books&sr=1-2